When an economy goes wrong, look for a financial problem. That’s the lesson from the seemingly endless Greek crisis and the boom and recent bust in Chinese stocks.
If Greece had its own currency, the country’s crisis would attract little attention. On the contrary, the economic news from Athens would be all too familiar to followers of countries which have trouble increasing their citizens’ average annual income to much above $25,000. Such middle-income countries have a habit of running into fiscal or financial trouble.
Outsider parties are disrupting the political system in many developed economies. Greece is leading the way, with Syriza’s victory in the Jan. 25 election on a platform of radical economic change. Spain, where the new Podemos party leads the polls, could follow later this year. Fringe movements are also gaining traction in France, Italy and the UK. Something similar is happening even in the United States, where the Tea Party movement is shaking things up from within one of the established parties.
Debt is a moral matter. While most economic activity is concerned with the “is” of how things are (investment, consumption and so forth), debts are always entwined with an “ought” – to repay. In discussing controversial debts–for example government borrowing in the euro zone and the U.S.–the moral question should be addressed directly: should these debts be paid off in full, or is some forgiveness justified?